Wednesday, 13 July 2022

18 Bronzemen

Savage Kung Fu

18 Bronzemen
aka Shao Lin Si shi ba tong ren
Taiwan/Hong Kong 1976 Directed by Joseph Kuo
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, so the seventh film in Eureka’s rather invaluable Cinematic Vengeance - Joseph Kuo boxed edition is 18 Bronzemen and, I have to say, I’d been looking forward to this one (although it’s certainly not the best in the box so far). I’d heard about this from a colleague at work many years ago and was interested in hearing the loud clangs as various opponents hit actors painted Bronze... although, to be fair, apart from a few bronze armoured champions, they are supposed to be humans just painted bronze and so, yeah, for the most part the loud clangs when they come into contact with fists and feet makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This one has an elabourate plot set up which kind of finds its way into the third act of the film, although as a movie it’s a very simple through line with all the story development being shown as reveals, which takes the basic story of three ‘brothers’ training to be Shaolin Warriors somewhat tenuous in terms of understanding the glue which holds these three together. True to IMDB form, putting names to the faces is somewhat hampered in terms of the three main, male protagonists (one of whom also turns out to be a minor antagonist towards the end of the picture)... however, the accompanying booklet helps me out by telling me that two of the three are played by Tien Peng and Carter Wong. The three are training from a young age at a Shaolin temple and the main geezah, who is only the second best at king fu, it would seem, is the one we join from when he’s saved as a baby from being slaughtered along with the rest of his closest family, before his aunt hides him and, after four years, places him under the care of the Shaolin monks in the temple for kung fu training... so he can eventually (20 years later, as it turns out), avenge his parents.

So yeah, the first hour of the thing is pretty much the main protagonists enduring hardships on their training journey so they can eventually pass the tests which involve beating the 36 Chambers (amazingly foreshadowing the title of the Shaw Brothers classic The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, made two years later) and facing the challenges of the 18 Bronzemen before, in the final of some fairly gruelling challenges (which are failed the first attempt and need another two years of training to finally beat), they each move a burning cauldron out of the way of the exit, incidentally branding themselves by doing this, with the twin dragon brands on their inner arms to mark themselves as true Shaolin Warriors.

Then, in a very quick, final half hour, more jigsaw pieces fall into place as the main man accidentally finds his future wife... due to her having the other half of a jade medallion which his father left with him shortly after his birth to lead the way to said wife... and together the two of them, along with ‘3rd Brother’, foil a few assassination attempts before meting out justice and destroying the guy who killed the main man’s father. And it’s a strange tale of three fathers, as it turns out, as each of the main male characters are fulfilling secret tasks unknown only to each of them, handed down by their dads in the past. Oh, and the future wife is once again played by Polly Ling-Feng Shang-Kuan from Dragon Inn (reviewed here) and The Shaolin Kids (reviewed here).

And it’s... certainly not as fun as some of the other films in this set but it is fairly entertaining, it has to be said. Little set pieces like bleeding from the nose and ears as part of the tests to ascertain whether you can successfully stand having your head inside a big bell while it is being chimed are somewhat interesting (and just a little bit horrifying, to be honest) but there’s just enough meat on the bone to keep the film going and enough kung fu action to keep you interested. There are the usual, shouty, ridiculous kung fu moves as various players either use them on their enemies or practice them and there’s a lot of play given to the hidden manual of the Secret Fist moves, which is apparently what eventually allows the main villain and his three look alikes (which is not as well handled in terms of continuity as you might expect, if you’re going to go down that route in the first place) to almost defeat the three surviving protagonists (the two actors and actress mentioned above) and certainly extract a cost from them (one of them dies), once again allowing Kuo to have his surviving characters pondering a somewhat hollow victory and giving the film something of a downer of an ending... which seems to be his preferred method of conclusion, certainly on most of the films included in this boxed edition.

So yeah, 18 Bronzemen is certainly not his worst film and I quite enjoyed it. If I’ve heard of this one then I guess it must have been one of his more famous films and so I’m sure many people rate it a lot higher than I do. It was certainly popular enough that he soon made Return Of The 18 Bronzemen, a sequel (of sorts... I’m hearing there’s a complication to that assumption) and that is the final of his films included in this edition. So I’ll try to catch up to that one sometime very soon.

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